Imperial Plots

Women, Land, and the Spadework of British Colonialism on the Canadian Prairies

Sarah Carter (Author)

Sarah Carter’s Imperial Plots: Women, Land, and the Spadework of British Colonialism on the Canadian Prairies examines the goals, aspirations, and challenges met by women who sought land of their own.

Supporters of British women homesteaders argued they would contribute to the “spade-work” of the Empire through their imperial plots, replacing foreign settlers and relieving Britain of its “surplus” women. Yet far into the twentieth century there was persistent opposition to the idea that women could or should farm: British women were to be exemplars of an idealized white femininity, not toiling in the fields. In Canada, heated debates about women farmers touched on issues of ethnicity, race, gender, class, and nation.

Despite legal and cultural obstacles and discrimination, British women did acquire land as homesteaders, farmers, ranchers, and speculators on the Canadian prairies. They participated in the project of dispossessing Indigenous people. Their complicity was, however, ambiguous and restricted because they were excluded from the power and privileges of their male counterparts.

Imperial Plots depicts the female farmers and ranchers of the prairies, from the Indigenous women agriculturalists of the Plains to the array of women who resolved to work on the land in the first decades of the twentieth century.


  • SHORTLISTED, Sir John A. Macdonald Prize, Canadian Historical Association (2017)
  • FINALIST, Wilson Book Prize, Wilson Institute (2017)
  • WINNER, Gita Chaudhuri Prize, Western Association of Women Historians (2017)
  • SHORTLISTED, Clio (Prairie), Canadian Historical Association (2017)
  • FINALIST, Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize, Center for Great Plains Studies (2017)


“Carter shows how history can be well documented, provocative, and entertaining.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review (Link)

“With Imperial Plots, Carter continues the ongoing efforts to reconceptualize the prairie west in the last decades of the nineteenth-century and the first decades of the twentieth-century. By putting the experience of Indigenous peoples and women at the centre of the story, Carter destabilizes longstanding images of a progressive, peaceful and egalitarian Canadian west.”

– Adele Perry, Professor, Department of History, University of Manitoba

Imperial Plots provides a valuable correction to the masculinist lens through which prairie history is so often viewed.”

– Penni Mitchell, Canada’s History

“This book is more than a tribute to pioneer women and a lament for lost opportunities. The present keeps peering at us through the past. Then, as now, lines drawn on maps — be they borders or homestead boundaries — determine who will and won’t have access to the resources of this world. Too much of humanity’s always-limited intelligence is devoted to plotting out the reasons why some people deserve to be one side of the line and some on the other.”

– Doug Smith, Winnipeg Free Press

“Sarah Carter’s ambitious study of British women’s empire building on the Canadian plains takes a truly multi-national approach to questions of women’s place on the land, dealing as it does with policies and ideologies in Britain, Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere. It does an impressive job of examining the concept of ‘whiteness,’ and it appropriately fits the spirit of the Chaudhuri award, focusing as it does specifically on ‘WOMEN in rural environments.’”

– Judging Committee, Gita Chaudhuri Prize, Western Association of Women Historians.

Imperial Plots showcases the skill of Carter’s historical storytelling in spades.”

– Sean Carleton, CHA Reads, Unwritten Histories (Link)

About the Author

Sarah Carter FRSC is Professor and Henry Marshall Tory Chair in the Department of History and Classics and the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.

Book Details

  • Imperial Plots: Women, Land, and the Spadework of British Colonialism on the Canadian Prairies
  • Sarah Carter (Author)
  • Published October 2016, 480 pages
  • Paper, ISBN: 978-0-88755-818-4, 6.125 × 9.250, $31.95
  • Topic(s): History, Social History, Women’s Studies

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